In high school, I was nominated by my classmates (and guidance counselors... in what was most likely a 20/80 split... because I was a total goody goody) to be a "Natural Helper". The premise of Natural Helpers was and presumably still is: young people turn to other young people when they're struggling. As such, the student ballot requested only "Name a friend who you talk to when you have a problem." I'm sure I voted for myself -- I voted for myself at every opportunity -- but I was named enough times by members of enough different underrepresented student populations to get picked, to board a school bus to the nearby wilderness, and to hang with a bunch of relative strangers in the woods. Sounds like a murder trip, I know. But it was magical.
I think I was fifteen, at the time, and performative to a fault. I truly relished being the smartest and the most overextended. So my priority at the outset of this weekend was, as usual, to make sure everyone knew I was perfect.
All of us were asked to bring something meaningful to share -- either a story or some symbolic artifact. I brought my copy of The Importance of Being Earnest because I thought it made me seem literary, although I'm not sure I'd even read it all the way through. And that first night in the cabin, as we all sat in a circle on the floor for show and tell -- me and the impossibly cool senior girls, and the older boys I assumed the worst in, and the weirdos I respected -- something in me burst. Some previously unmarred emotional cyst just... popped.
Battered teenage souls were bared: stories of abuse and sickness and familial suicide. I remember feeling embarrassed by my lack of bravery, but more so I just... I didn't know. I didn't know I could confess all the hurt and shame in my world and be accepted -- I didn't even know I could admit my anxiety, or my fraught relationship with my dad, or the fact that I didn't really eat to myself . I had never realized that my peers; even the glossiest, most glamorous, and most revered, were dealing with such deep shit in their own homes and their own frontal lobes every single day. I didn't know.
When my mom mom picked me up from school on that Sunday night, I told her I'd had a life changing experience. She still references that exchange, which, out of context, probably seemed farfetched. But it was true. It is true. Life is never not moving. We're always fighting hard battles -- lots of times we're losing. I'm open about my own battles because I so admire that courage in others, and I want every beautiful human I know to feel comfortable confessing their own deep shit to me. That's connecting, and that's what we're here for, right?